Sit with the feeling of appreciation. When you have a few minutes at night, sit with the feeling. Try to really feel what appreciation feels like in your brain and your body. See how long you can get the feeling to last!
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness ” I had the pleasure of interviewing Risa Williams, psychotherapist and book author of “The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Tools to Worry Less, Relax More, and Boost Your Self-Esteem” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
Risa Williams is a psychotherapist and coach specializing in anxiety reduction tools and time management techniques. She is the author of the book, “The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Tools to Worry Less, Relax More and Boost Your Self-Esteem” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) and she writes wellness articles for Breathe Magazine and LA Parent Magazine. In The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit, she provides easy to use tools and actionable strategies to help people manage everyday anxiety by focusing on feelings of appreciation and gratitude.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have been a ballet dancer, a writer, a professor and a psychotherapist. Throughout the different careers and creative paths I have explored, I have always been curious about people. I love to learn about how people use their brains, how people think, and I love to ask questions about different human experiences. All of this curiosity lends itself well to writing and therapy. I started writing my book full of anxiety reduction tools a year and a half ago, and it’s been really exciting to see it come together during a time where I think it could be helpful to people. A recent study showed that 62% of Americans are feeling high levels of anxiety right now, so I am hoping the book can provide practical strategies to readers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Working with many clients who experience anxiety in many different forms has definitely taught me how to better manage my own anxiety. Every time I suggest a tool or technique that works for someone, I write it down, and I remember to do it myself. It has also taught me that some things work for most people in terms of re-routing our thoughts to more positive patterns. Generally, what I find helps a lot of people is to become more aware of what’s going in their bodies, to connect to their bodies more frequently throughout the day, and to practice saying kinder, gentler words to themselves on a daily basis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
When I read “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, there was a quote that stuck out to me, “There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you.”
When we take full responsibility for our emotional states, for the thoughts we are choosing to regularly think, we realize we have control over whether or not we can make ourselves feel better. That was a turning point for me, the idea that changing little thoughts throughout the day could lead me to feeling better overall.
When it comes to gratitude, it isn’t necessarily about feeling huge amounts of gratitude all the time. Start small. Look around for the little daily things that make you feel happy, grateful or appreciative and start there. The more you notice the small things around you that are working out, the more the feeling grows and comes naturally to you.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
When it comes to the subject of gratitude, all of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books are good. His writing is clear and simple, it brings your stress down just to read it. Sometimes, I re-read his book, “How to Relax” because it reminds me to stay in the present moment more. Eckhart Tolle’s book, “Stillness Speaks” also really makes you realize that we spend so much time thinking about the past and future, that we completely avoid being in the present.
When we work on checking back into the present moment, breathing into the moment, feeling what we’re feeling and accepting it, it can bring a sense of peace. It can lower your general feelings of anxiety and worry, and it’s good for your body, too.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently writing a new book full of time management tools, and also, on a book about self-compassion techniques. My goal is to help more people lower their daily stress levels by providing simple, practical tools that are easy to use, and hopefully make practicing self-care feel more like “fun” rather than “work”.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Every day, I am so grateful for my kids, my husband, and my family. I am also grateful to have so many supportive friends who are writers that I can reach out to when I feel stuck for motivation. As far as a gratitude mentor, I have a writer friend named Mike Sonksen. Every time you hang out with Mike, he thanks you a dozen times, sometimes out of nowhere. He just says, “Thank you.” It makes you realize how powerful and positive that statement is to tell someone. It inspired me to thank people more on a regular basis. It can be a very uplifting experience to just thank as many as people as possible in a day.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation, and you can direct it at many things. When you appreciate things/people/places around you, you naturally feel gratitude. Gratitude is a way of connecting to what we enjoy experiencing in the world.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
As humans, we are prone towards a neural negativity bias, which means we will naturally tend to focus on and highlight the negative things that happen to us throughout the day. In order to counter this, we actively and consistently have to train our brains notice the positive things around us more in order to feel more positive emotions. It takes practice, and it takes believing that this mental practice will be beneficial, in order to do it consistently enough to start to see the positive results of doing it.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Gratitude can help you boost your feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, as well as make you feel better about the things/people/animals around you more often. Practicing gratitude and appreciation regularly can provide us with a feeling that we are doing enough and we have enough. When we learn to appreciate what’s already working out for us right now, we can feel better about handling the future as well.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude and appreciation on a regular basis can lower your cortisol levels, improve your sleep, and can make you feel less fatigued. It can also increase your sense of hopefulness and optimism.
When you train your brain to actively look for things that are working and that are positive, you are forming new patterns of thoughts that can help you as opposed to hinder you. When we’re overly focused on the negative things in our lives, we aren’t helping lower our stress levels, we’re actively raising them. If we’re doing this a lot, every day, that’s a lot of stress!
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
Here are my FIVE WAYS to use the power of gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down three things you are grateful or appreciative for. If you can write more than three, that’s even better. The key is consistency. Every day is what you want to aim for! Review what you’ve written frequently. This helps increase your desire to continue to do it and to connect with the feeling more.
- Thank people more. Thank people all the time! Thank your partner for doing the dishes, thank your kids for studying. Thank your friends for doing something kind. Thank your colleagues for helping you finish a project. Thank people when they inspire you to do things. Thank people for things they did in the past that helped you. Spread the positivity. It will come back to you when you need it.
- Thank yourself more. Appreciate yourself on a daily basis. Feel grateful that you figure things out each and every day. We can be so hard on ourselves that it takes some determination to change this trend. Practice a little at a time. Catch yourself more when you start beating yourself up.
- Talk to yourself with kindness. When we talk to ourselves with kindness, it affects our lives in so many positive ways. Listen to how you talk to yourself, and go gentle with your words. Become more mindful and aware of how you talk to yourself, and try to think of things about yourself that you’re grateful for instead. There are plenty of things that we take for granted about our bodies and our brains. It can be helpful to write a list of all the things you’re grateful to your body for.
- Sit with the feeling of appreciation. When you have a few minutes at night, sit with the feeling. Try to really feel what appreciation feels like in your brain and your body. See how long you can get the feeling to last!
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
When you’re feeling intense emotions, journaling about any little thing you can appreciate might help get you to a better emotional place. Even if all you are doing is listing things around you, this can help, as long as they are things that make you feel appreciative.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
I would recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, Wayne Dyer’s books, Marisa Peer’s books, and Headspace’s Guide to Meditation to feel more appreciative about life, and also, reading Marie Kondo’s books will make you appreciate the stuff around you more. Appreciating the stuff that you already own is a simple way to start feeling more grateful.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One of my favorite quotes is by Kahlil Gibran: “Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything it covers.”
It’s the idea that practicing kindness to yourself and to others can help beautify everything around you.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
For more wellness tools, check out my latest book: “The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Tools to Worry Less, Relax More and Boost Your Self-Esteem”, www.theultimateanxietytoolkit.com or visit my website: www.risawilliams.com. You can also read more at IG @risawilliamstherapy.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
I am very grateful to be included in this article and I’m grateful to all the readers out there who happen to read my writing. Thank you.